The Register Hardware is reporting that Asus will be phasing out all smaller-screen versions of its Eee netbooks. According to the article,
Buy your 7in and 8.9in Eee PCs while you can - Asus is going to phase them out next year, company chief Jerry Shen has revealed...So the 'standard' netbook next year will be a 10in model with a hard drive and running XP - MSI's Wind or the Asus Eee PC 1000H, in other words.
While only the tiny-handed and very well-sighted could debate the values of a slightly larger keyboard and more screen real estate, the real beauty of the original Eee was, in fact, its tiny size that lent itself to backpacks, messenger bags, and, most importantly from our perspective, student desks.
There is a reason that the original Classmate and OLPC XO had 7" screens. Well, OK, there were two reasons, the first being the cost of LCDs at the time. The second, however, was size and durability (yes, I know, that's actually three reasons, but size and durability are closely related). A small screen translated to a small form factor perfect for kids to carry around, with a wide protective border. My relatively recent tests of second-generation Classmates with 8.9" screens suggests a real sweet spot there, balancing usability, especially for small hands.
10" (my apologies, by the way, to the rest of the planet that uses the metric system) and up simply gets us into the realm of ultraportable and away from an educationally-focused netbook. Obviously, Asus isn't in the business of making computers for educational applications; I get that. However, I'm not going to put a 10" or 11" Eee into a kindergartener's hands, even if they do hit a $200 pricepoint as Asus' CEO predicts. I'd rather that Asus keep producing the 7" and 9" models as an educational niche and sell them for really rock bottom prices. A $150 "disposable" laptop for early education and simple 1:1 solutions seems a fine idea, right?
It's entirely possible (and highly probable) that Jerry Shen knows something I don't about this market. However, I really believe that there are two markets in which Asus will be hurt by this move: Education, where cost, size, and durability are king, and the "tween" market, sitting between highly portable computers like the MacBook and smartphones. For me, if I'm going to carry around a computer with a 10" LCD that I have to worry about, I might as well carry my MacBook. However, give me a really cheap 7" laptop and I'll gladly buy it as a supplement to the Mac.